The first airplane to fly over Winnipeg took off from the Dufferin Avenue fairground on a July afternoon in 1910. Among the observers was 14-year-old Konrad Johannesson. Konnie, as he was known to friends, snuck away from the crowd to get a close look at the Curtiss Pusher ‘flying machine’ and, before he was chased away by a mechanic, a deep fascination with flight was born in the young man. Upon graduating from Kelvin High School, Johannesson studied engineering for two years at the University of Manitoba. In 1916, stories of the fighting airplanes of World War I enticed Johannesson to enlist with the Royal Flying Corps.
Johannesson began his flight training at Ismalia, Egypt on a Farman MF.7 Longhorn, which was similar to the first plane he had seen fly in Winnipeg. After 10 hours of flight time on the Longhorn and 10 days of ad-hoc training on various fighter planes used in the field, Johannesson was moved to ‘pool’, where replacement pilots waited for active duty. It was in this ‘pool’ that military flight training began to be formalized, eventually into the School of Aerial Fighting. Konnie Johannesson was in the right place at the right time and, being one of the few fully trained pilots in the ‘pool’, he was appointed a Pilot Instructor in the new school.
In 1919, the war was over in Egypt and Johannesson was on his way home to Winnipeg. In 1919, flying jobs were few and far between, so instead of flying the athletic young Johannesson joined the Winnipeg Falcons hockey team as a defenceman. Johannesson would become best known for the Winnipeg Falcon’s gold medal victory at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, in Belgium; Canada’s First international hockey victory.
At age 31, Johannesson retired from pro hockey. In 1927, Winnipeg hired him as the city’s first Airport Manager. Under his supervision, Winnipeg’s Stevenson Field grew from a nearly vacant airstrip to one of western Canada’s busiest air centres, following the construction of large hangar facilities by Canadian Airways Limited in 1931. By 1934, Johannesson was tired of desk jobs and decided once again to pursue a more active career. He bought a de Havilland DH.60 Moth and opened a passenger flying service which he operated out of Stevenson Field and from a dock on the Red River near the Redwood Bridge.
‘Johannesson Flying Service’ was an instant success. Johannesson personally transported about 150 passengers each year into central Manitoba with his two-seater biplane. With a new threat of war looming in Europe and the demand for airline pilots growing at home, Johannesson expanded his business to flight instruction. Johannesson was recognised in 1937 for his role in the original WWI School of Aerial Fighting as a “Master Flying Instructor of the British Empire”. His expertise and notoriety both as an athlete and a world-renowned instructor made Johannesson one of Winnipeg’s most sought after flight trainers. After the war, Konnie Johannesson established ‘Rivercrest’, a float plane base in the Municipality of West St. Paul, which he operated until his retirement in 1965.